I recently returned from speaking at the Lifestyle Medicine Conference in Washington DC last week. I was inspired by this movement to get back to our prevention roots, by addressing the pillars of health – diet and exercise – and also facilitating lifestyle interventions (smoking cessation, stress management). These sorts of lifestyle changes have served as the framework for my recommendations for over 25 years, and I’ve been talking about them for quite a while now.
In terms of Lifestyle Medicine interventions, diet, it turns out, is both clearly the most important, and the most controversial of this type of approach to medicine. There is no controversy over whether a healthy diet impacts health and disease substantially, but rather “which” healthy diet is the best prescription.
I’ve always used a balanced, evidence-based approach when helping people change their eating habits. Eating, and food, is a very personal matter for many. Cultural influences as well as food preferences or tolerances, all factor into what one may choose to eat. Diet and nutrition research has evaluated several aspects of the diet and many key nutrients, and has come to various conclusions. Although there are many dietary approaches to wellness and disease prevention, some are supported by evidence (DASH diet, TLC diet, Mediterranean Diet, the Ornish Diet, or a plant-based/vegetarian diet), and recognized by mainstream media as well.
Yet there is no question, that certain foods, namely plants, will do most people some good. While a plant-only diet may not be for everyone, heading toward a more plant-based diet, can be. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are currently under review, and I’m sure the 2015 version will include the recommendation to eat more fruits and vegetables, and more intact grains (sometimes difficult to understand how to do, when food marketers label products with simply “whole grains”).
There was some disagreement at this conference whether “small steps” are worth doing. The argument is that drastic steps lead to more drastic results, which are true in theory; but in real life, I still believe that for most of the public, small changes can be helpful.
So this holiday season, I challenge you to make a few small changes in how much you eat, what you choose to eat, and how you cook. You don’t have to lead a vegan lifestyle to gain the health benefits of plants and whole foods. Just try a few new things, and see how it goes. As Dr. David Katz says: ‘Add some years to your life, and life to your years’